Democratic Republic of the Congo
Earth > Africa > Central Africa > Democratic Republic of the Congo
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The Democratic Republic of the Congo, often called DR Congo, RDC or Congo-Kinshasa is not to be confused with its neighbour to the north the Republic of the Congo (often called Congo-Brazzaville).
The second Congo war, known as The African World War in the countries involved, officially came to and end in 2003. In five years of combat, more than 5,4 million people died making in the deadliest war since world war 2. The aftermath of that war is not over yet. The UN and the armies of several neighboring countries (although most deny it) are heavily represented in DR Congo harvesting the natural resources. The areas of the country not under the control of foreign forces are mostly run by local militias (Mai-Mai, Hutu etc.), terrorist forces (Lord's Resistance army etc.), European/Zimbabwean mercenaries, or the Congolese Army, of which whole brigades has disbanded forming their own Colonel Kurz style parallel societies.
Congo is widely recognized as the richest country in the world in terms of natural resources, but it currently has the second lowest GDP per capita in the world.
It's needless to say, that traveling solo in Congo can be ridiculously dangerous, and is not recommended for anyone.
There are currently only three relatively small areas safe for tourists, backpackers and hitchhikers. Those are the capital Kinshasa in western Congo, the town of Goma on the border to Rwanda in eastern Congo and the bush land of the easternmost part of the Orientale province in north-eastern Congo. There are few roads and plenty of militias between these areas, and trying to get from one to another overland will cost you months of traveling and most likely your life. It's not worth trying!
Hitchhiking in Kinshasa
Kinshasa is a huge city a population of more than 10 million. It is considered on the same level as high risk African capitals as Lagos or Nairobi.
"Hitchhiking" is the main way anyone without a car gets around in Kinshasa, as there is no public transit system. When waving at the cars you will get a ride in a matter of seconds, although at busy time there will be 15 other people on every corner, also waiving at cars. If you are travelling within Kinshasa, it helps if you ask for the hand signal for your destination neighbourhood. Drivers will look for people signalling for the same destination as them and may not waste their time stopping otherwise. You will be expected to pay for your ride.
Hitchhiking in the West
Many Congolese will tell you that the road shown on maps connecting Kinshasa in the west to Lumbumbashi in the south does not exist or is impassable. In 2011 Hitchwiki member Alyssa hitched the route. It took about 25 days of being on the road every day (or sometimes being stuck in the mud, but still on the road). There were very few vehicles passing - maybe 5 a day, all bug trucks in terrible condition that were extremely overloaded. At one point a hitched ride in a truck took 6 days to go 200 km due to mechanical problems and mud. There were few security issues and contrary to popular belief about African police, they did not insist on bribes, instead generally offering food and help hitching onwards.
Hitchhiking in the East
In early 2010 Hitchwiki member JeppeRobert tried hitching in the region. Feel free to send my any questions you might have considering Congo.
The town of Goma is controlled by the UN. It lies on the border to Rwanda, and is divided from the Rwandan city of Gisenyi by a wall. Because of the huge amount of UN personnel in the town, it is quite easy to get a free ride around town or a few kilometers out of it. If you plan to visit the mountain gorillas in the nearby Volcanos National park, you might get lucky hitching a ride with fellow backpackers. Ask around in the bars or hotels in town. Going more than 15-20 kilometers away from the town is very dangerous. There is plenty of rebel activity in the area, and the local warlords will do anything to make the UN look bad. Hence attacks on foreigners is quite common.
Further to the north. The part of the Oriantale province bordering the West-Nile region of Uganda is safe. Day trips from Nebbi or Arua in Uganda are okay. Any further and things become difficult. Hitchhiking is the same as in Uganda. Every single vehicle passing by will pick you up, but only the ones driven by NGO's or the UN will be free. Everyone else will expect a payment.
The Ugandan Shilling and Rwandan franc are the standard currencies in the areas of Congo bordering these places.
If you get "arrested" by local militias US dollars can buy you out of any trouble. Always have a 10 or 20 dollar note in an easily accessible pocket and at least 50 dollars hidden in your shoes or underwear.
Get the phone number of someone who can help you.
Don't be seen hitching a ride with white people in none-NGO cars. They are most likely mercenaries and are hated by the locals.
Give your country's embassy in Uganda or DR Congo your contact details. It is the fastest way to get info on a sudden chance in the security situation.
Check, double check and triple check the security situation in any area of the Congo you want to go. Humanitarian NGO's are good for this.